Is Apple Pay Safe for Debit Cards? Security Features Explained

Ashley Ferraro, Consumer Operations
Nov 14, 2023
 • 
10
 Min Read

With 50 million users, Apple Pay® is the most widely used mobile payment platform in the U.S today[1]. Apple Pay makes transacting simpler and safer by eliminating the need for physical cards and cash and allowing you to pay with your smartphone. 

Despite Apple Pay’s popularity and benefits, some users may be concerned about the safety of their financial information while using the digital wallet due to the rising prevalence of card fraud and cyber threats such as data breaches. This article aims to explore how Apple Pay handles security, answering the following questions:

  • How does Apple Pay work?
  • Is Apple Pay safe for debit cards?
  • What steps can you take to further secure your data during transactions?

How Does Apple Pay Work? 

Apple Pay enables you to make purchases on websites, in apps, and at stores that allow contactless payments. Over 85% of retailers in the U.S. accept Apple Pay payments[2], including eBay, Wish, and Target. The service works with most card issuers, including[3]:

To transact with Apple Pay, you need to add your debit or credit card to the Wallet app on your phone[2]. You can then make payments online by selecting the Apple Pay option at checkout and completing the chosen authentication step or in person by holding your Apple device against the payment terminal[4]. When using Apple Pay, you have access to all your card benefits, such as miles and points[2]. Unlike its competitors, PayPal, Venmo, and Cash App, Apple Pay doesn’t charge any fees to merchants or individuals[2].

A 3D render of Apple Pay’s logo on a gray background
Source: Rabaitul Azad

How To Connect Cards to Apple Pay

To set up Apple Pay, you need a compatible device with the latest version of the operating system, a supported card from a participating issuer, and an Apple ID logged into your device[7]. The following table explains how to link cards to different Apple devices[7]:


iPhone Apple Watch Mac or iPad
  1. Go to the Wallet app.

  2. Tap the Add button.

  3. Select the Debit or Credit Card option to add a new card or Previous Cards to add a card you already used.

  4. Tap Continue.

  5. Follow the on-screen instructions to link the card.

  1. Connect your iPhone to your Apple Watch.

  2. Open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone.

  3. Go to the My Watch tab.

  4. Select the Wallet & Apple Pay option.

  5. Tap Add Card.

  6. Select the Debit or Credit Card or Previous Cards option.

  7. Tap Continue.

  8. Follow the on-screen instructions.

  1. Go to your Wallet’s settings on your device:

    1. Mac devices with Touch ID—Go to System Preferences, then Wallet & Apple Pay.

    2. Mac devices without Touch ID—Enable iPhone and Apple Watch payments by going to Settings, then Wallet & Apple Pay.

    3. iPads—Go to Settings, then Wallet & Apple Pay.

  2. Select the Add Card option.

  3. Follow the on-screen instructions. 

Regardless of the device, your card issuer will have to approve your card for use with Apple Pay. As part of the approval process, they may ask you to enter a verification code or verify your identity through the banking app[7]

Is It Safe To Add a Debit Card To Apple Pay?

It is generally safer to use Apple Pay than payment cards or cash[5] because Apple Pay creates an additional layer of security around your transactions. It generates a Device Account Number and unique transaction code for purchases, never storing your card information on your device or Apple’s servers or sharing it with merchants[2]

You can even choose to hide your email address from merchants, in which case it’ll be substituted by a random email address that automatically forwards emails to your real address[2].

Besides tokenization, other Apple Pay security features include:

  1. Multi-factor authentication
  2. Near-field communication (NFC)
  3. Protection in case of loss and theft

Multi-Factor Authentication

When you set up Apple Pay, you’re required to create a passcode, which you’ll then use to log in and confirm transactions[6]. You can also enable transaction authentication via Touch ID or Face ID to prevent unauthorized use[6]

Near-Field Communication (NFC)

NFC is a chip-based technology that enables contactless payments between a device and a Point-of-Sale (PoS) terminal[6]. Once your device with the Apple Pay digital wallet is on and close to an NFC field, your added default card will pop up on the screen[6]. After that, you can verify the payment using Touch or Face ID[6].

NFC technology provides an extra layer of security by encrypting your card data during transactions, making it difficult for potential thieves to interpret it. 

A photo of a person tapping their phone against a payment terminal, depicting a contactless transaction
Source: cottonbro studio

Protection in Case of Loss and Theft

If you lose your mobile device and have Find My—Apple’s asset tracking service—enabled, you can put the device on Lost Mode on your account page to suspend Apple Pay[6]. That way, you can prevent unauthorized charges without canceling your cards right away[6]. In case you find the device, you can enable Apple Pay again[6]. You can also erase your lost device using Find My—doing so will suspend the cards connected to the app, even if the device is offline[6]

While Apple Pay takes precautions to keep your data safe, it’s impossible to guarantee complete safety of your sensitive information. Ultimately, it’s up to you to employ certain precautionary measures and minimize the security risks.

A photo of a person holding their smartwatch above a payment terminal in a contactless transaction
Source: Ivan Samkov

How To Make Your Apple Pay Transactions More Secure

When transacting via Apple Pay, you should take the following steps to fortify the security of your financial data:

  • Enable multi-factor authentication—Although your transactions on Apple Pay are protected by a passcode, you should also turn on Touch ID and Face ID. That way, you can prevent unauthorized purchases even if the fraudster has your device and passcode.
  • Avoid transacting when connected to public Wi-Fi—Many public Wi-Fi networks are unencrypted and unsecured, allowing hackers to intercept and view the data you send or receive, including your debit card number.
  • Be on a lookout for phishing and other scams—Cybercriminals may try to contact you, impersonating a real individual or business like Apple and asking you to urgently perform an action, such as click on a link that leads to a malicious data-stealing website or download an attachment infected with malware. To prevent falling for a scam, compare each message or email you get with the ones you received from the same entity previously and pay attention to small discrepancies in the sender’s phone number, email address, and writing style. Phishing messages also tend to contain grammatical and spelling errors and greet the target without mentioning their name.
  • Toggle on Lost Mode and erase cards—If you misplace your mobile device, you should turn on Lost Mode and erase the cards immediately to minimize the chances of unauthorized purchases.

You can also use virtual cards to mask your financial information when shopping online. A virtual card is a randomly generated card number with its own expiration date and security code. If you buy with a virtual card, your real card or bank data stays protected in case of a data breach on the merchant’s servers. By opting for a dedicated virtual card provider such as Privacy, you can enjoy not only enhanced security but also advanced customization and budget control.

Prioritize Security With Privacy Virtual Cards

Privacy is a BBB®-accredited virtual card provider that offers the same level of security as your bank. You can link a debit card or bank account from most financial institutions and generate virtual cards to shield your real financial information from potential hackers. As they’re issued by either Visa® or Mastercard®, Privacy Cards can be used at most vendors and websites that accept these card types.

Privacy employs numerous robust security measures to protect your data, such as transaction monitoring and two-factor authentication (2FA), and undergoes regular third-party audits. 

The Privacy mobile app, available for iOS and Android, enables you to create and manage virtual cards on the go. You can also opt to receive an in-app and email notification each time your virtual card is used or declined, which allows you to detect potentially suspicious transactions promptly. 

A man sitting on the bed surrounded by cosmetic products and typing their payment card number into their smartphone
Source: Cup of Couple

Privacy—Your Trusted Shopping Companion

Privacy has a browser extension for Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari. The extension enables fast and seamless checkouts by autofilling card details for you in the checkout fields, so you don’t have to reach for your wallet or memorize card numbers when shopping online. The Safari extension also has an iOS version that allows iPhone and iPad users to shop spontaneously on the go. 

Learn about the different types of cards and card controls in the table below:


Feature How It Works
Two card types
  • Single-Use Cards—You can use this card only once. Since it closes minutes after the first transaction is completed, potential hackers won’t have much use for it.

  • Merchant-Locked Cards—You can use this card multiple times but only with one merchant. If hackers end up stealing the card number, they won’t be able to make purchases elsewhere.

Spending limits You can set spending limits to maintain your budget and prevent sneaky merchants from overcharging you.
Card pausing/closing If you pause or close your virtual card, Privacy will block all transaction attempts. This is especially beneficial for preventing subscription services from making unwarranted charges.

Set Up Privacy in Four Simple Steps

All you need to do to become a Privacy user is:

  1. Create an account
  2. Provide the information necessary for verifying your identity
  3. Connect a debit card or bank account
  4. Request Privacy Cards


Privacy has three pricing plans that cater to different budgets and needs. The Personal plan is free for domestic purchases and includes 12 virtual cards monthly, access to the browser extension and app, and features such as card pausing and closing and spending limits. 

References

[1] Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. https://www.consumerfinance.gov/data-research/research-reports/big-techs-role-in-contactless-payments-analysis-of-mobile-device-operating-systems-and-tap-to-pay-practices/full-report/, September 6, 2023 
[2] Apple Pay. https://www.apple.com/apple-pay/, sourced October 2023 
[3] Apple Pay Support. Participating banks in Canada, Latin America, and the United States. https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204916, sourced October 2023
[4] Apple Pay Support. Make purchases using Apple Pay. https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201239, sourced October 2023
[5] Ciara Larkin. Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/112515/apple-pay-safe-and-free.asp, updated August 6, 2022
[6] Apple Pay Support. Apple Pay security and privacy overview. https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT203027, sourced October 2023
[7] Apple Pay Support. Set up Apple Pay. https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204506, sourced October 2023
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